World Cup Special #1: GROUP A

by Ray_North on February 27, 2014

Unknown-12There are exactly 104 days until the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

104 days of hype, speculation, prayers, politics, earnest debate, fantasy and expectation, until the start of what is always the greatest show on earth. The drama, the colour the spectacle – marvellous.

In the ensuing 104 days, I’ll be offering my own unique Ray North insight into the players, the teams, the formations, the possible stories – everything you’ll need to hold your own down the pub during that all important Switzerland Ecuador match.

For those who aren’t familiar with the format – the World Cup will be contested in Brazil without doubt the home of football. There are 32 teams and for the first stage divided into 8 groups of 4. They will then play the other teams in the group and the teams who finish first and second will go through to the knockout stages – which comprise of four rounds with the final round determining the winner.

Got that? Good.

So, let’s start with Group A.

BRAZIL
CROATIA
MEXICO
CAMEROON

This is not the group of death. But it is an interesting group for a number of reasons.

The first being the incredible colour and fanfare that will accompany this group. The Brazil games will be an incredible spectacle, a carnival with added tension – whilst the support that will be brought by the Mexicans will be similarly fervid.

So let’s compare the squads.

Brazil
The Brazil squad is quite simply incredible, one only has to look at the players who can’t get in it to see just how strong they are – Coutinho, Lucas, Pato, Ronaldinho and Kaka and others are all unlikely to feature, yet all would walk into any other nation’s first 11.

The gaffer, is the irrepressible Big Phil Scolari – and his problems will lie in managing the expectations of his nation and trying to put some superstars into a team that can win the big matches. Because, Big Phil knows that the team with the most superstars doesn’t necessarily win the championship – just look at Holland in 1974 and indeed Brazil in 1982.

If anyone can do it though Scolari can – after all, he’s done it before, leading the Brazil of 2002 to victory. On paper, they will be overwhelming favourites – of course they will home advantage, plus the best squad seals that, and I fully expect them to overcome the other three teams in their group fairly easily – possibly, because none of the other teams will expect to beat them. After that, Brazil’s biggest battle will be against themselves because they have everything that it takes to win the Cup.

As for the players to watch – crikey, where do you start – Oscar, William, Fernandinho, Neymar, Paulinho, Dani Alves – each and every one of them has the ability to light up the tournament on their own. But, I have a sneaky feeling that Oscar (pictured) could become something special in the environment of a World Cup.Unknown-13

Mexico
Mexico always seem to qualify, but never seem to do a great deal once they’re there, which is odd, considering they’ve some great players and massive vociferous support. My own gut feeling is that Mexico is not well served by the fact that they have a relatively easy route to qualification – playing in the central American qualifying group against the likes of El-Salvador and Haiti rather than the more onerous groups to the South or in Europe, where a team will have to develop a dog-like ability to scrap for a point in a hostile environment.

Their manager is Miguel Herrera, who is the fourth manager in the last fifteen months, which tells you a lot about how skittish the Mexican footballing public and authorities are about their football.
They will be nice to watch, prone to the odd bit of histrionics and hard to break down. I think that they’ll do well in Brazil – with their game against Croatia absolutely pivotal.

Players to watch: Morena is a rugged defender with a lot of experience whilst Chicorito Hernandez of Man United is always worth a goal or two, but their most important player is Guardado (above)Unknown-14, who plays in the Bundesliga for Leverkusen, he directs all their play and if he is on song, the Mexicans will be difficult to beat.

Croatia
I always like watching the Croats with their wonderful red chequer board shirts and fanatic followers and great hair. In the late 1990s and 2000s, the Croats played some of the greatest football we’ve seen with the team of Suker, Jarni and Vlaovic being particularly special. This crop isn’t quite up to that standard, but they will play technically excellent football and with a bit of luck will try to go toe to toe with the Brazil side, which could make for a corker.

The man in Charge is Niko Kovac, who knows a thing or two about international tournament football and his job will be to bring his team together and keep some of his older players, like Olic and Krankjar fit and happy.

They’ll need to avoid getting beaten up the Cameroons to ensure that come their game against Mexico they’ve got all their players fit and well.Unknown-15

Players to watch: Pletikosa is a great keeper, and I’ve always liked the way Srna trots up and down the wing as a marauding full-back, whilst Modric is pure class. However, the young Inter midfielder, Kovacic could be the one to watch in this powerful squad.

Cameroon
Over the years, Cameroon have provided the World Cup with some great memories – who could forget Roger Milla’s goal scoring feats of the 1990 World Cup and the sight of Rigobert Song and others putting in chest high tackles in other world cups.

At their best, Cameroon play a wonderful brand of football that is athletic and skilful, at their worst, they can be brutal and negative.

A lot depends upon who is managing them, and this time, the manager is the German Volker Finke, who, I confess, I know nothing about other than from his photograph he appears to have a rather splendid mane of grey hair. They qualified comfortably beating Tunisia 4-1 in a resounding play-off win and will be no one’s whipping boys come Brazil – but, in this group I fear that they might struggle.

Unknown-16Players to Watch:
They will look towards the ageing Samual Eto’o to lead their attack and he will be ably assisted by Pierre Webbo and Jean Makoun – but keep an eye out for a young man from Hamburg called Jacques Zoua (pictured) great name and touted as the heir apparent to Eto’o.

Ray’s Predictions
Tricky group this, but I’ve got a feeling that it might look like this come the final game:

Brazil
Mexico
Croatia
Cameroon

Next up…. Group B – the group of death?

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